Children love toys and can learn some very important lessons from them. What are some ways you can use toys to teach your children God’s principles for life?
Have you walked into a toy store recently? The experience is overwhelming for an adult and absolutely intoxicating for a child! There are brightly colored dolls, action figures, games, building sets, sports equipment, electronics—brilliant and colorful displays on every shelf in every aisle.
Toys are big business. According to ToyAssociation.org, Americans spent $32.61 billion on toys in 2020. But toys are not just an American obsession. Children from every nation and culture are fascinated by toys. In fact, toys have intrigued children from mankind’s earliest days; toy dolls and animals have been excavated in the environs of ancient Sumer, dating to 2600 BC, and the children of ancient Greece played with a type of yo-yo at least as early as 500 BC (“When Children Came out to Play: Ancient Toys and Games,” Ancient-Origins.net, June 21, 2019).
In Proverbs 22:6, we’re commanded to “train up a child in the way he should go.” We may easily think about following this instruction in a very formalized way, giving them Bible studies and explaining important biblical principles. But are we teaching through toys?
Toys may not seem very important for a Christian. In fact, the topic may seem quite silly. Yet the reality is that toys give parents an invaluable opportunity to teach children godly principles in very practical ways. The way we deal with toys can either help or harm their understanding of God’s way of life.
Do you recognize the impact of the toys that you buy or accept as gifts for your children? When it comes to toys, are you teaching them the right lessons? You may unintentionally be teaching the wrong lessons just by not thinking about it. One way or another, our children learn from everything around them, including their toys, which come in different shapes and sizes, from a simple hanging object above a baby’s cradle to a box of Legos that let older children construct almost anything their growing minds can imagine. Toys at various stages of development teach invaluable life lessons—and can expose growing minds to important godly principles.
One of the most important principles a child learns is the importance of self-control. A young child’s mind at first revolves around its own wants and needs. But, as they grow, children learn that the world is not an “instant-gratification machine.” Toys can help teach this lesson. There is nothing that most of us parents want more than to give our children every possible thing we can—but if a child demands a toy and you say “No,” you aren’t just acknowledging what you can or can’t afford; you are teaching the important lesson of self-control.
It may simply be a matter of timing; a noisy toy may disrupt a needed adult conversation, or a toy may disrupt the mood at the dinner table. Children who are told “No” in a firm but loving way will learn to manage disappointment and to obey instead of rebel. If there is one lesson that reverberates throughout the Bible—beginning with Adam and Eve—it is the lesson of how to respond to “No.” If we teach our children the right way to respond, we’ll be doing them a service that will positively impact their whole life. A wise parent will recognize that toys are not only fun for kids, but also a means to teach self-control.
Responsibility may sound like a very adult concept, but it can be taught at a young age. When parents instruct their children to pick up and organize their toys, they are doing more than ensuring that the room is neat. They are teaching that God is a God of order, not confusion; although parents might not quote 1 Corinthians 14:33 to their children, they are effectively teaching it. They are also teaching the godly principle of responsibility.
Luke 16 records Christ’s parable in which a steward is chastised for wasting the goods of his master (Luke 16:1–10). Giving the moral imperative of the parable, Christ explained, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much” (v. 10). In other words, taking responsibility for the little things in life sets in motion a pattern—a habit—that affects how we deal with bigger things. Caring for toys so they are not damaged or destroyed is not just about the toys; it’s about a child learning to value and care for things, accepting responsibility.
When children are taught to share their toys, they learn to be unselfish and they experience the joy of giving. Few things touch the heart as much as watching a little child voluntarily give a toy to another little child. But it takes consistent and loving coaching and practice to give our children the ability to overcome their human nature by practicing these joyful acts of kindness. Another lesson is learning the proper expression of appreciation. When children are taught to say “thank you” when given a toy, they are creating a habit that helps to form their character.
Finally, using toys to allow boys and girls to enjoy and express their God-ordained roles is a wonderful way to help them prepare for those roles as they mature. In a world that is hostile to the very idea that there are separate but complementary roles for men and women, as expressed in Scripture, it is politically incorrect to view children’s toys in this way. However, if we are willing to acknowledge Paul’s words honoring and valuing the woman who devotes herself to her family (Titus 2:4–5), we will be pleased to see little girls holding and caring for baby dolls, as they are naturally inclined to do.
God commanded the Israelites to diligently teach His ways to their children (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). From the time that our children begin to draw their own breath, they are watching and listening. And their learning is not limited to the times when we sit down together and read the Bible. Every moment builds a pattern for their future.
If we give them toys that can help to develop their motor skills and hand-eye coordination, expand their imagination, and develop their understanding of how the world around them works, we’re benefitting them. We can short-circuit that benefit by giving them toys that glamorize hurting others. Addictive screen-time toys that may keep children quiet in the short run, but sap their interest in real-life activities, can work against parents in the long run. And, sometimes, the simplest toys are the best; balls, building blocks, and baby dolls have stood the test of time.
But even if we use wisdom in buying toys for our children, we cannot expect that the toys themselves will teach them all that they need to learn. The benefits of toys are greatly diminished without the human element of parental interaction. Take the time to play with your children and their toys. Savor the moments of playing, building, and imagining with them. And don’t forget the value of those toys and the part they play in teaching practical, godly principles. Those are lessons that will last for a lifetime.